With a deluge of information available often at the push of a button, an afternoon of productivity can quickly be enveloped by mindless searching and swiping.
Overall productivity relies on our undivided attention—and our inclination to see a project through without distraction and without deriving is at constant odds with technology.
It may not be entirely your fault that you find yourself increasingly lethargic or unproductive. Computers, phones, and other emerging technologies are designed to pray on our natural desire for new information—utilizing bright colors and flashing lights to reward us for leaving work behind and exploring the greater world on the Internet.
Finding a way to balance that digital sea with productivity—especially when more and more jobs require an Internet connection—isn’t going to be easy. It can feel good to suggest that you simply unplug and get the work done, but what about when you have to use the Internet to complete your tasks?
We’ll be talking about how and when you can unplug while still using the Internet to increase your productivity, the science behind the destruction of the online world, and ideas you can use to keep active, vibrant, and working—even when surrounded by distraction.
The Science of Digital Procrastination
As we’ve mentioned, our devices are built from the ground up to occupy our time and claim our resources.
We’re hard-wired to want to receive rewards and other positive stimuli as we uncover new information and entertain our curiosity—a trait that has been with us since the very beginning.
Think about the bright red number that appears on an app once you have a new notification or the way you’re given information without ever requesting it—thus satisfying a need that wasn’t there in the first place. Extrapolate these factors across the ease of use of infinite scrolling feeds, and you have a way to retain viewership and lose entirely too much time online.
Feeding these urges may feel good in the short term, but there are serious long-term consequences to satisfying our need for information. The Association for Psychological Science, for instance, explored the terrifying correlation of depressive symptoms in adolescents to screen time.
We also know that the blue LED lights from phones and screens can cause disruptions of our circadian rhythm and harm our ability to get a good night’s rest.
There is simply an overwhelming amount of evidence that points towards our addictions to phones and ability to procrastinate without failure is scientifically-based and very difficult to surmount. Only be reducing or removing the stimulus of technology entirely will allow us to start working against these negative effects.
Unplugging Technology & Rewarding Productivity
Working technology out of our lives is not going to be easy.
If you work a job at a computer, work remotely, or otherwise, need technology to complete your tasks, simply unplugging isn’t going to increase productivity. In these cases, it often becomes detrimental.
We’ll need to work to minimize the distracting effect of technology on our lives alongside removing what we can. Consider limiting your work to one device and removing others from the room you need to work in. Since the only device in the office is focused on work, there’s no room to pick up the phone for a personal matter that’s sure to distract.
Also, consider disconnecting from the internet for as long as your job or position allows. Internet connectivity often enables software to manipulate what you’re working on and provide distracting push notifications. It also allows easy access to sites like Facebook or Twitter that will provide an endless source of procrastination.
Removing distractions and setting ground rules for the technology in your life is a good start to gain more productivity, but when you remove the positive stimulus of technology in your life, you must work to replace it.
Thus, tie in any choice to disconnect or unplug from technology with a reward system that will give you the incentive to complete your daily tasks and complete them quickly. For example, allowing yourself small concessions—such as purchasing a small item or object you’ve wanted—if you manage to complete your work will serve you far better than tossing the phone out and hoping for the best.
The key to choosing to unplug, disconnect, or leverage your digital technology is to ask yourself if it is essential for the tasks and work you need to be accomplishing. If the answer to that question isn’t a resounding yes for a specific device, keep it silent and far enough away so that it no longer occupies your mind.
Unplugging from technology will increase productivity—but only after you’ve learned how to operate under the lack of distraction. Much like with additions, the unplugging of technology leaves a massive hole that we need to fill with effective time management strategies to increase productivity.
Once you’ve set up your positive affirmations for goals and milestones, we’ll need to work on developing productivity in the absence of a digitally connected you.
Much of the appeal and distraction of technology is the lack of permanence.
It can be easy to watch hours of online television or read article after article on the Internet—mainly because as Internet users, we feel in control of the content. We can change and alter our options on a whim, and thus, the time we’re spending on leisure feels better spent then time focused on work and other subjects we cannot control.
That’s why shifting as much as we can from digital to analog is important. For example—your calendar and to-do list.
Don’t get us wrong—a cloud-based reminders application or calendar service can be an invaluable tool for us to know what’s due when often just by picking up the device nearest to us.
During the actual process of getting our work done, however, that easy access to reminders and other applications can be a dangerous stepping stone back into a less productive lifestyle.
Consider investing in a physical calendar to carry around—writing in the work that needs to be done. When seated at a computer, have a list of achievements you need to accomplish and physically cross them off of your list once completely.
Being able to see the tactile change of paper can help you solidify that the semi-permanent world of the Internet is creating real change. Much like how time wasted is muddled somewhat by the design of the Internet, so is time spent wisely. Don’t be afraid to continue to log your work and keep old sheets and weeks to look back on to further internalize your progress.
The insidious nature of technology means that we lose far more time on the Internet that we either intend to or desire to—so becoming acutely aware of your time management will be important after you’ve pulled the plug on all unnecessary devices.
As sophomoric as it sounds, consider utilizing a time sheet to track productive and consistent work. Physically write down the minute you begin to focus, and each time you either stop to send a text, tweet or browse the Internet, again mark the time.
By the end of the day, you can compare the total time you spent seated with the intention to work with the total amount of time you’ve “actually” worked. Often, in the first weeks or days of conducting your digital purge, you’ll find that these statistics are less than pleasing.
Technology trains us to have a neurotic and overactive mind—jumping from content to content due to small dips in quality or feeling bored for more than 10 seconds or so. This training in attention deficit has to be counteracted by a process in which you focus completely on one thing at a time.
Looking to your “timesheet” and seeing how little time you spent focused on a singular task will allow you to recognize moments you’ve been distracted, mitigate and prevent these from continuing to harm your ability to work and work longer and more efficiently on singular tasks.
Productivity Through Nature
If your job will not allow you to disconnect from the Internet or you still find yourself lost and distracted in your journey to develop productive methods and tactics, try disconnecting entirely for several hours at a time.
While this may sound counterintuitive, we know through clinical research of the restorative properties of nature. In your efforts to focus singularly on certain tasks, attempt to leave the phone or smart watch at home and take a walk in your local park. If that’s not an option or you find little time in the day to head out to a green section of your city, remain seated in an outdoor location and practice disconnecting on a mental level.
Managing to remain still and without a noisy mind is one of the major tenants of meditation—and we’re trying to replicate that specific idea by exercising our ability to sit still and remain calm and undistracted throughout the day.
These tips may sound silly, but honestly—try sitting outside on your back porch or balcony and set a timer for five minutes or so. Try to think of nothing or focus on the sounds and noises around you until the timer goes off.
For many people, this is a practice in futility—as those five minutes can sometimes feel like several hours. Without the constant inundation of noise and feedback that we’re used to receiving, a completely distraction-free space gives us time to envelop ourselves in the greater and more natural world.
Technology alters our perception of time—turning entire days into a blur of wasted videos and pointless words. After unplugging, we need to alter it back through practice, hard work, and determination.
Integration & Final Thoughts
Throughout this article, we’ve discussed the scientific notion that technology is both designed to distract us and can have serious implications for our mental health. We’ve also covered different ways to re-enforce positive stimulus and encourage productivity after removing unnecessary technology from our lives.
There are no easy answers here—and depending on your specific situation and goals for productivity, you’ll need to utilize every tool that you can that applies to you. For some, this will mean completely removing phones and computers from a home office.
For others, that may mean practicing medication and learning how to sit in nature without constant thoughts and distractions.
The implementation of productivity will be hard—it will be a long journey that will require you to dedicate yourself to the cause of removing technology from your life where it simply should not be.
If you can find the desire to do so, however, the rewards will speak for themselves.
Without the allure and distraction of technology, you can hope to become a more focused person and able to work for long periods of time on a single project and without distraction. You’ll be able to appreciate and enjoy your natural surroundings, as well as understand when and how to allow technology back into your life.
And of course—you can be massively more productive.
We hope that you spend enough time examining the technology in your life to determine the value of each object regarding how beneficial they will be in completing tasks and working to help you—not harm you. Remember to reward good behavior, constantly consider how productive you’ve been, and keep in mind that there’s always room for improvement.
Start working on your productivity, track your progress, and start working towards productivity each day. In the end, you’ll be left with enough time to start doing the things that you truly love to do.